Dick Tracy is a name that most people are familiar with on a superficial level: He’s a detective, he wears yellow, and there was a Warren Beatty movie based on his character. What the average observer might not realize is that Chester Gould’s comics span an enormous cast of characters, a rogues’ gallery that rivals even Batman’s in terms of strangeness, and a startling panorama of grisly and nightmarish death—all depicted in stark black and white.
IDW has been collecting Dick Tracy’s exploits in their complete format for years, chronicling every strip in order. This chronology becomes increasingly relevant as Tracy’s family evolves, bad guys die and leave vendettas against him, and Tracy even ventures into space to fight crime around the same time that the Silver Age hit comic books in full force. The Very Best of Dick Tracy: Bullets, Battles & Bad Guys collects half-stories from within Gould’s expansive tenure on the strip in a kind of flashback-episode format.
The collection presents the last few pages (or few dozen strips) of various adventures, prefaced by a short paragraph on what led up to these particular events. This might seem like an odd way to breach the world of Dick Tracy, but it all provides a solid entry point into his larger mythology. Ultimately, most of us show up to read about the freakish bad guys who are physically deformed in any number of ways to express their deformed sense of morality, as well as the unfortunate ways in which Gould kills them off. In this way, Bullets, Battles & Bad Guys is a quick one-two punch that doesn’t stop for breath, but also doesn’t always provide the full breadth of the satisfying details that lead up to these narrative climaxes.
Because of this presentation, this isn’t really a book for collectors or purists, but it’s definitely ideal as an accessible entryway into the rich world of Dick Tracy. These comics are from a fairly early era in modern graphic storytelling, but that doesn’t preclude the fact that there are plenty of bullets flying through faces, necks, and just about any other body part you can imagine. Gould seemed to take much more pleasure in crafting ironic and torturous deaths for his bad guys than actually making any of them face the U.S. legal system, toward which Gould himself often expressed skepticism.
Gould’s own style evolves as he develops as an artist, and as newspaper formats changed, so this is also a great window into the process of an artist who helped define an entire genre. It’s fast-paced, smart, and frenetic, and a whole lot weirder than one might anticipate --- and completely enjoyable.
Reviewed by Collin David on March 30, 2011
The Very Best of Dick Tracy: Bullets, Battles & Bad Guys